Race report: Stockport Trail Half Marathon

Race report: Stockport Trail Half Marathon

It was a cold grey winter morning at the end of February. The night before the rain had been lashing down outside, promising muddy puddles for the morning’s run.

Two months after Christmas, Stockport Trail Half Marathon seemed liked the perfect and achievable new year challenge. My second half marathon distance and my first trail half at that. I assumed I’d be full of good intentions and a heady rush of motivation. But now the warmth of the central heating and a duvet was making it hard to get out of bed.

Gently cajoled out of my slumber and fed some porridge, I laced up my trainers, put on my waterproof and headed south to Marple, where the race starts and finishes.

A home advantage?

Marple is actually where I grew up, which was another reason for wanting to do this event… it was on home turf!

I registered at the very-familiar-to-me Railway Pub, home to Marple Runners’ twice-weekly runs which I occasionally pop along to. Then it was just a short trot to join 400ish other runners at the start of the race at Marple Rugby Club.

Heading out from the club, the route goes down Middlewood Way towards Macclesfield for about 10k and then turns back onto the canal sending you back towards Marple.

Now, as most people know, canals are fairly flat. And for the non-locals, the Middlewood Way follows a long-abandoned trainline. So flat and flatter.

A flat half marathon sounds like it should be fast, and I’m sure it was for some. But running on the flat for 13.1 miles/21.1km is not without its own challenges.

How NOT to train for a half marathon

At this point it’s probably best to make a confession. I did not train anywhere near enough for this event.

I signed up at the end of December, and I still think two months is an entirely reasonable period to train for a half marathon if you’re a regular runner. But I didn’t increase my number of runs a week (1-2) or distance until about two weeks before the event. Realistically, I just didn’t have the time in the end.

I do NOT recommend this approach. But I know my body pretty well, and I knew that I am generally in good fitness having run all through winter (plus climbing and doing my usual yoga and Pilates), so this was more of an experiment in whether I could still do this distance (my first, last and only half marathon to date was the Great North Run 18 months ago).

Plus, I decided to just treat it as a training run for an upcoming – and much hillier – 18km Lakeland Trail next month.

Either way I decided that walking parts or even not finishing wouldn’t be the end of the world. I would just go for the experience. And I’m glad I did.


Run break down

My strategy was to keep to 6:45/km pace or less, it’s a lot slower than my 5k or 10k pace but I know it’s sustainable.

And I decided to break the run up into bits. It was the only way I could get my head around doing such a distance.

Now, I am not a morning runner. In fact, until two days before I thought the run started at 11am, not 9.30am! (Like I said, not the most prepared I’ve ever been).

The first kilometre was fun cause I got swept along by the crowd but by the end of the second I felt like my legs were stuck in the mud. And not just cause they literally were; they also felt like lead. I couldn’t help but feel this would have been so much easier after midday and my body had a chance to wake up.

I’d made little bargains with myself. At the first water stop (5k) I’d promised myself I could take my jacket off (I always overheat, even in February!) At 10k I could take on a bit of energy. At 15k I could put my headphones in to see me through the last bit.

I also had the knowledge that my boyfriend (who wasn’t signed up to take part but ended up running 20k anyway just to support me, he’s a good ‘un!) would be there somewhere along the way, having run the route in reverse to around the half way mark. He then proceeded to run back to the start either just behind or in front of me, relieving me of my extra layers and fixing my drink. Best. Boyfriend. Ever.

From 2-10k I felt fantastic, I was staying on pace. Everything felt good. Half way I turned back on to the canal and kept going, getting just ahead of a slightly slower group. I’d broken the back of this thing and was on the home straight.

It was around 11k that things started to get tired. Mainly my shins and hips. I took on some energy, and had a chat to my boy. I ran another 3k but by this time things were tired and they HURT. All of a sudden I was telling myself I couldn’t do it. I was two thirds of the way there but I just didn’t feel like I was going to make it and despite my laissez-faire attitude going into this, at the time the thought of not finishing made me want to cry!

After slowing down and taking several deep breaths, I managed to pull it back together. Two ladies passed me who asked if I was ok, and I fell in just behind them at a steady, slightly slower than intended pace. They were really encouraging and by that point reminded me that, with only 5k left, it was just like doing a Parkrun. Which made me feel a bit better.

Heading back onto the Middlewood Way from the canal I spotted my first hill. Boy, have I never been happier to see an incline! That next half a kilometre or so through woodland was such a relief on the legs as the ground undulated beneath my feet.

Then it was just 3k left to go on the same flat path we’d started out on. It was such a friendly atmosphere near the end, with those of us that were flagging pushing each other on to the finish line.

I got over the line in 2:27:32 – slow as ever, but almost 90 seconds quicker than my GNR time… and I actually trained properly for that one. So all in all I’m pretty happy with that. I think I also, strangely, enjoyed it a bit more than GNR and feel like maybe longer distances aren’t so unattainable anymore (though I’m not planning on doing another for a few weeks!)

I have definitely learnt that it’s not the best idea to go twice the distance you’ve trained for. But I’ve also learnt that I can go further than I thought was possible. So maybe a lot more training and a little more self-belief wouldn’t go amiss next time, eh?